When I first came up with the idea that would morph into my book ‘Behind the Story’, I thought I’d dispense advice and things I’ve learned over my almost-forty years of writing along with how the writing business has changed in the last forty years. But then a thought came into my mind:
My relationship with writing is complicated.
And why that is, my dear readers, is a complicated answer that will take a whole book to explain. Problem is, I don’t feel like I’ve done the work on that answer like I have with my other two books in my non-fiction triumvirate as I call them (Breaking Radio Silence and Stand or Fall).
My complicated relationship with writing begins with my origin story. It goes back close to forty years and deals with two people are now ghosts in my life: my father and mother. There’s so much about my writing and them that I have never talked about and I’ve just really begun to go back through all that history. This is the stuff that probably won’t see the light of day until the book’s publication because of the emotional charge on it.
My own writing journey has had its’ emotional highs and lows. From the highs of writing and learning, of the hope and aspirations sent off with every submission, and to the lows of rejection letters and harsh criticism. When I started writing it was pen and ink and now it’s pretty much all electronic. Yes, a writer can self-publish but there’s no guarantee of success. There’s so much more work involved and for me, that’s a story I’m in the process of living in order to document it.
Recently, I’ve been trying to write about how and why I started writing but back then I didn’t think about how to start writing or why I was doing it. Yes, I really just picked up pencil and paper and started writing. And for so many writers, that’s the way it is. It’s like you have all these thoughts and words and images in your head and you have to find a way to get them out of your head or you feel you’ll go nuts. A lot of writers have said it was write or go crazy and though it wasn’t like that for me as a ten year-old kid, I will say as an adult it has been from time to time. But this struggle led me to another question: why have I kept writing?
I was thinking if writing is so emotionally complicated that looking back on it makes me feel like I’m walking through a minefield, why do keep writing? That question does have an answer: because that minefield never really existed in the first place. For the longest time, I used to think if I truly pursued my writing at one-hundred percent full throttle that someone would try and destroy me. In the last six years of reflection and remembering, I’ve come to realize that anyone who ever shit on me for doing something I loved (writing) even as it had no effect on their lives was never going to follow through on the threat I thought they were trying to hold me back with. Most bullies as I call them don’t think their shit through and just react out of ignorance, fear, and moral superiority. My writing was never a threat to anyone, nor would it have taken me from any responsibilities I’d taken on.
When I started writing all those years ago, I didn’t worry about whether or not I’d be good at it. It was just something I could do without anyone seeing me doing it, unlike being in a physical education class floundering around like the uncoordinated slob that I am. But I was surprised when I read my writing out loud in classes and my fellow students hung on every word. When people told me my writing was good and had potential I felt their sincerity. They weren’t laughing at me or looking at me with pity as I lay on the ground. They looked right at me and told me I was good at putting words together. Looking back, I wished I’d believed them instead of the people in my life who made me think that if I pursued my writing at full-throttle my parents would have disowned me and tossed me out on my ass. That’s a story for another time and place so I’ll leave that one here.
Writing has never been easy for me but then I wasn’t told it was going to easy to begin with. The expectation was that it would always be a lot of work and was going to take a lot of work to succeed at. It’s that thought that truly sustains me as I pursue my writing as I am now. I’m on my own with my only real responsibility just to take care of myself (and my pets, too but they’re pretty low maintenance). If anyone tried to barge in on my life and tell me to do otherwise I’d respond with the sarcastic surprise of, “Really?” followed by a lovely ‘Fuck off.”
But I’m not worried about anyone barging in on me anymore. And my parents were never going to disown me and toss me out on my ass for my writing as they were my staunchest supporters when they were alive and hopefully from beyond the grave. And they were also the first two people in the world to say they weren’t perfect so I’m not worried at all about how I will write about those imperfections along with my own.
And those imperfections are where the complications come from.